Archive for the ‘Board of Directors’ Category

2012 Planning / Working Together

It’s been way too long since my last post. I was going to jump in with a post on not blogging, but thought better of it. Better to actually do than write about whether to do or not do. So much for my resolution to write/blog more this year… Hopefully this was just a January hiccup with too much travel and work to fit in regular blogging.

If you’ve read this blog you know I’m a pretty deliberate guy. I like to know where I’m headed and I like to be explicit about where that is, what’s working and what’s not. To that end, towards the end of last year I went through an exercise with each of the companies I work with to lay out both top level goals for this year as well as get some feedback on the interaction pattern between the company and me. I’ve always done some version of this, but this was the first year I was this explicit about it (and the first time I included a request for specific feedback on my working relationship with the CEOs that I work with). The email looked like this:

I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback loops recently and thought it would be helpful to touch base on how we worked together in 2011 and think a bit about anything that we need to change about our interactions in 2012 (talk more; talk less; more concentrated time together; etc.). And overlay onto that the key priorities/challenges for 2012.

With that in mind can you send me your thoughts on:
- what worked best working together in 2011
- what didn’t work (either specific situations where we weren’t on the same page or some overall interaction pattern that just didn’t work)
- what should we do differently in 2012
- what do we together need to focus on in 2012
- where can I be most impactful to the business in 2012

I appreciate your spending some time thinking about this. I’m doing the same and will respond to your thoughts with some of my own.

In terms of how I’m thinking about 2012 for Spanning I think about a couple of key ares of focus:
- [bulleted list for each company of the top 4 or 5 things I felt would really move the needle in 2012]

Obviously there are a million other things that are going to take place in the business in 2012, but these are the general areas as I’ve been thinking about it (would love your feedback on these as well).

This turned out to be a more positive exercise than I ever imagined it would be. While I’ve always talked to the companies I work with about the key goals of their business (and, of course, this is an ongoing conversation), being this explicit really helped spur some interesting conversations. More importantly I’d never asked in a systematic way to all companies in my portfolio how our working relationship and communication pattern was working for them. In the past these tended to either come up on occasion (but never aligning across the portfolio), or be something that was discussed when some kind of problem arose. I’ll write a separate post (hopefully sooner than 6 weeks from now!) about communication patterns between companies and their investors and some of the explicit things I learned through this exercise, but I’d encourage anyone reading this to consider engaging in this conversation with their investors. It changed how I thought about interacting with a number of the companies I work with, reinforced some behavior and forced me to change other behavior. And my relationships became stronger and the goals for 2012 that much clearer.

February 9th, 2012     Categories: Advisors, Board of Directors, General Business    

"The Board"

I’ve written before on effective board communication, how to run effective board meetings and other "governance" topics related to companies and their boards of directors. Today’s post is a little more ethereal.

I’ve noticed a real difference in how various CEO’s I work with refer to their boards – particularly when talking internally to the rest of their management teams and employees.  On the one hand are the CEO’s that consistently refer to their board of directors as "The Board" (capital "T", capital "B") and often use them as some kind of foil (as in "The Board has said that we really need to do XYZ") – almost separating themselves from whatever decision or direction it is that they wish to convey and treating the board as some kind of amorphous entity like the borg in Star Trek.  On the other had are CEO’s that more often refer to the board by their individual names, including themselves in the list as well. It’s obviously much harder to absolve yourself of responsibility for a decision if you speak in this fashion. It’s also much more difficult to use the board as the foil (since "Seth, John, Jamie and Susan" sounds a lot less threatening than "The Board").

What’s interesting to me as an observer of this behavior is not just my obvious preference for communication style, but for what a predictive marker it is for other behaviors that I also care about.  CEOs that treat the board as individuals rather than a single entity are more likely to seek meaningful advice and counsel from their board members, are universally better at board level communication and have board members that tend to be more involved (in a good way – at least in my opinion) in helping solve day to day business challenges.

Something to think about as you plan for your next company meeting…

August 26th, 2008     Categories: Board of Directors    

Serial vs. collective board communication

Board communication has been the topic of a handful of conversations over the past few weeks as several of the companies I work with have grappled with both the right level of communication as well as the correct forum for certain board level discussions and decisions. 

Although there are a handful venues in which boards communicate, fundamentally they fall into one of two categories: conversations between a subset of the board (often just the CEO and an individual board member) and those that involve the full board.  While there are some decisions that must clearly be made by the full board at properly noticed board meetings (and documented as such) there are many more day-to-day decisions that either do not, or fall into a gray area where gaining board ‘consensus’ might be accomplished in different ways (or may not even be required at all).

Before I go on, let me pause to say that not only am I not a lawyer – I’m definitely not YOUR lawyer.  Decisions around proper company governance should be made in consultation with company counsel who can provide you with specific guidance around what decisions need to be made by the full board and the proper ways to obtain board consent on those matters. 

My view on board communication is actually pretty straight forward in that I believe that a mix of serial (one-on-one) and collective communication styles is appropriate (although I recognize that some of my venture colleagues skew significantly to one side or another).  Certainly CEO’s and management teams should feel free (and be encouraged) to reach out to specific board members to get operational and day-to-day tactical advice.  Topics for these conversations can range from prep for an important customer meeting, advice on a strategic alliance or partnership, thoughts on a marketing initiative, etc.  They should also regularly ‘check-in’ with their board members to make sure that they are communicating regularly (and getting feedback as necessary about both the business and their board management).  These conversations are natural places for soliciting tactical business feedback as well as preping for group decisions that are upcoming.

I draw the line on these conversations when they start to enter the realm of board decisions rather than board input (and even in the case of board input, there are some topics that really should be discussed openly with the board as a whole).  I’m generally NOT in favor of CEO’s serially calling all board members either for the purpose of gaining buy-off in the absence of a group communication or for the purpose of "pre-wiring" a board call (essentially lobbying the board before the have a chance to talk together). There’s incredible value in the actual board discussion and in many cases someone comes up with an idea that either influences the group decision or triggers a thought by another board member that wouldn’t have otherwise come up.  There’s definitely risk in this – a CEO needs to be comfortable with more far ranging conversations and open to real disagreement.  Of course, most good CEO’s embrace these sorts of conversations and have a good governor based on run-time with their board what decisions really require some kind of parallel discussion vs. those that don’t. 

One thing that significantly helps reduce the potential for problems is making sure that you are regularly communicating to your board collectively between meetings.  Regular business updates will ensure that even if you couldn’t connect with several of your board members everyone is fully up to date.  Its also a place to gain basic group feedback on topics that for one reason or another came up with only some board members and which deserve some amount of group consideration ("I spoke with George this week about XYX; he suggested ABC; I’d appreciate your thoughts on this subject as well.").

With a little thought and planning as well as at least a short, regular (at least bi-weekly) check-in will go a long way towards avoiding the problems that arise when your board feels that important decisions are being made without their full input or counsel.

March 21st, 2008     Categories: Board of Directors